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Zinke Out, Mulvaney In (For Now) In Busy Weekend Of Presidential Tweets


The president has been spending this weekend on Twitter. He named his new interim chief of staff, announced the resignation of the interior secretary, celebrated a sweeping ruling by a federal judge deeming the entirety of the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional and complained about the investigation into his campaign's contacts with Russia. NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson is with us to tick through the tweets. Good morning, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Lulu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So Ryan Zinke is the interior secretary. And he's out. Budget director Mick Mulvaney is going to be acting chief of staff. So aside from the palace intrigue, what interests you about these moves?

LIASSON: What interests me about Zinke is just how sensible it was. The White House wanted to cut their losses. Zinke was under several ethics investigations. And he would have been a prime target for Democrats in January. The interesting thing to me about the chief of staff search are the people who said no - Nick Ayers, 36 years old, former chief of staff for Vice President Pence. In any other world, no 36-year-old, ambitious guy would turn down the second-most powerful job in Washington. Chris Christie - someone who was competent, politically experienced, had the kind of stature that a chief of staff usually has, a big supporter of the president - also turned it down. I think it just shows that the president right now looks like a party of one. He's isolated just as he's starting his third year in office, lot of staff turmoil. And he still doesn't have a chief of staff.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. I think they all wanted to spend more time with their families...

LIASSON: (Laughter).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...Which is code.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: The Obamacare lawsuit - let's talk about that. It hit just before last night's deadline to sign up for insurance on healthcare.gov. But there's no injunction included in it, right? So nothing changes for the...


GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...Moment. But after a midterm campaign in which Republicans really tried to soften their health care messaging, this is a reminder that the Republican Party is still trying to get rid of Obamacare, which I think seems risky considering what a big issue it was in this past election.

LIASSON: Yes. But the president was tweeting triumphantly about this ruling, even though a lot of legal scholars think it won't be sustained on appeal. But I suppose if you are a Republican who wants to hasten the day when we get single payer or "Medicare-for-all" - of course, there are no Republicans who want that - you might like this ruling because I think this ruling, if upheld, could help accomplish that. But remember, in the 2016 campaign, Donald Trump didn't just say he would get rid of Obamacare. He said he was going to replace it with something better and cheaper for everyone. But Republicans were never able to pass an Obamacare replacement law. And as time went on, Obamacare got more and more popular. So I think this ruling goes under the beware of what you wish for - you just might get it - category.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I want to talk about the investigations into Donald Trump, of course, and the sheer volume of them. You know, even before Democrats take control of the House next month, as The Washington Post headline put it, nearly every organization Trump has led is under investigation. CNN's John King rattled off the list at the top of his show on Friday. Let's listen.


JOHN KING: The Trump campaign, the Trump transition, the Trump inauguration, the Trump administration, the Trump Organization and the Trump Foundation are all under investigation.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's a lot of Trump. There is a difference between smoke and fire. But, Mara, that's a lot of smoke.

LIASSON: That's a lot of smoke. It means, at the very least, the White House will be distracted. They haven't staffed up to deal with all of these investigations. The president is very focused on this. He tweets about it a lot. So you know that it's consuming his time and energy. And all of this is going to be highlighted and expanded on by a new Democratic House with subpoena power in January.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Just briefly, you know, these are different, right? You have domestic stuff, allegations of tax fraud, campaign finance violations. But there are also accusations of foreign influence and collusion. What do you think threatens the White House more?

LIASSON: Well, right now just on a purely legal basis, the campaign finance and tax law violations are a bigger threat. And don't forget, they're not part of the special counsel's investigation into whether Trump conspired with Russia to influence the 2016 elections. They're coming from Trump's own Justice Department. But that's why you hear the president's supporters in Congress saying, well, it's just campaign finance, just tax law - kind of like a parking ticket. And you hear the president's lawyer Rudy Giuliani saying, no one got killed. No one got robbed.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Mara, thank you.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.